Hundreds of people attend a candlelight vigil for six young people killed in Barrie, Ont., in an accident


BARRIE, Ont. – Candles and lanterns lit up the downtown waterfront in Barrie, Ont., on Saturday night as hundreds of mourners gathered to honor six young townspeople killed in a car crash there almost a week ago.

Friends and relatives of the victims, all of whom were in their early 20s, sent lanterns over Kempenfelt Bay towards the end of a night filled with tearful tributes and reflections on the lives that, according to them, were cut short too soon. They floated above the stage lit by flickering candles and strewn with bouquets.

Curtis King, River Wells, Jason Ono-O’Connor, Luke West, Jersey Mitchell and Haley Marin had already been hailed as future social workers, talented athletes, gifted students and cherished members of family and community in the days following their death. Saturday’s vigil featured other tributes, but also a space for those left behind to express their pain.

Tracy More, Marin’s aunt, said the events of the past weekend had sparked a “nightmare” for those close to the youngsters.

“Innocent in their youth and living their best lives, four boys, two girls, began an adventure that would end their stories,” she told the gathering. “Our six families will be together forever as we all search for answers.”

The six victims were found early Sunday morning after their vehicle came to rest in a large concrete pit at a rural construction site on the southwestern outskirts of the city.

Police came to the site of the unreported accident hours after the occupants of the vehicle were reported missing. Few details of the incident or the circumstances leading up to it have been released.

Tributes poured in the following days. King and Wells were hailed as talented football players, West was mourned as a beloved lacrosse player and coach, and Mitchell was remembered as an avid cheerleader.

Marin and Ono-O’Connor were studying at a local college, with Marin focusing on social work and Ono-O’Connor pursuing a bachelor’s degree in automotive management. His official obituary also describes him as an avid gamer and enthusiastic athlete who was involved in many sports.

The flood of tributes prompted Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman to reflect on the impact of the tragedy on the community as a whole.

“We are a city of 150,000 people, but it showed this week that there are two or three degrees of separation for each of these young people and their families,” he said at the vigil. “They touched so many lives.”

Tara O’Connor, who traveled from British Columbia to attend the vigil in honor of her son, said she was moved by the actions of the community.

“I know he is as touched as my husband and I are by the truly generous outpouring of love and support for each of the six families,” she said of Ono-O’Connor.

Mourners gathered outside the Spirit Catcher sculpture near the downtown Barrie waterfront, placing candles on the steps leading up to the statue.

Family members, friends and teammates, some wearing sports shirts, wept and tried to console each other by sharing stories of their lost loved ones.

“If you knew Jersey, you know she could be feisty at times,” Mitchell’s uncle Jonathan Jackson said. “But when she was fiery, we knew it was because of how deeply she cared about the people around her. I believe if we could emulate that, emulate her kindness and thoughtfulness, that is a tribute that I know she would be proud of.

King’s father Jason, held up at the rally as his son’s role model, reflected on the potential snuffed out in last weekend’s accident.

“My son and his friends… seeing the handsome young men they were becoming, they were really on a roll,” he said. “I’m just proud to be Curtis’ father, he was my best friend…He will always be my hero.”

Some attendees of the emotional rally collapsed near the front of the crowd and were taken to an ambulance on stretchers. Lehman thanked the first responders who were on hand to support those who fell.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 3, 2022.

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